MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-0) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Heinz Field. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Kristina Pink.
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 9-7, but the Steelers have won three of the past four. The Vikings won the most recent meeting, 34-27, in September 2013 in London. The Steelers won the only postseason meeting between the teams. The Steelers beat the Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl IX.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers want to have a balanced offense. That’s their goal every week. But in the opener at Cleveland, the Browns’ style of defense and some early penalties forced the Steelers to deviate from their plan. They passed 36 times and ran it just 17. Expect that to change against the Vikings. Running back Le’Veon Bell had just 10 carries for 32 yards against the Browns. The Steelers want to get him more touches, especially early in the game, so he can develop a rhythm.
When the Steelers are on defense, they’ll look to stuff the run and make the Vikings a one-dimensional offense. Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook had 127 yards in his debut, and the Steelers will try to limit his effectiveness. If they can do that and force Sam Bradford into obvious passing situations, they should be able to tee off and rush the passer. They sacked Browns rookie DeShone Kizer seven times.
The Vikings have to stop receiver Antonio Brown. To do that, they first must stop Bell. The Vikings run defense slammed the door early on Adrian Peterson and the New Orleans Saints. If the same can be done against Bell and the Steelers, the Vikings have the corners to slow Brown.
Offensively, the Vikings line needs another clean performance. No pre-snap penalties in the hostile surroundings. If they start doing that, the three-and-outs will pile up, and the Steelers will take control of the game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Vikings WR Stephon Diggs vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden and CB Artie Burns. Diggs had seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints while Haden was targeted early and often by the Browns. This is the reason the Steelers traded for Haden — to match up with other team’s top receivers. Burns will get his chances to cover Diggs because the Vikings move him around in their formations.
–Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Vikings CBs Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman. Rhodes, the team’s Pro Bowl corner, is expected to shadow Brown whenever he lines up outside. Rhodes usually shadows a receiver of Brown’s ability. But he hasn’t gone inside and lined up over a receiver in the slot. Brown can be a dangerous slot receiver. Newman, the 39-year-old former starter, took the bulk of the snaps in the nickel slot position last week. Mackensie Alexander, a second-year pro who has yet to seize his opportunity to be the full-time nickel corner, could see snaps inside as well. But the Vikings will want to try to keep either Rhodes or Newman on Brown for most of the game.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers WR Martavis Bryant. Bryant was quiet in his first game since January 2016. The Browns held him to two catches for 14 yards. Look for the Steelers to get their big-play receiver a little more involved against the Vikings. Bryant was a big-play machine in 2014 and 2015. He missed last season on a drug suspension. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will look his way more this week.
FAST FACTS: Minnesota QB Sam Bradford completed 84.4 percent of his passes for 346 yards, three TDs and no INTs last week. In his past three vs. the AFC, he has 854 passing yards, three TDs and one INT. … Vikings RB Dalvin Cook rushed for 127 yards in Week 1, the most by a Viking in his NFL debut. … Minnesota WR Adam Thielen led the team with nine receptions and 157 yards last week. He has 16 receptions, 303 yards and two TDs in his past two road games. … Minnesota DE Everson Griffen had six tackles and a sack last week. He had a sack and forced fumble in the last meeting. He has 31.5 sacks since 2014, fifth in the NFL. … Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger passed for 263 yards, two TDs and one INT last week. He had 383 passing yards in the last meeting. He is 32-15 vs. the NFC. … Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown had 11 catches for 182 yards in Week 1. He has six games with at least 175 yards since entering league in 2010, most among active players. He caught 12 passes for 88 yards in the last meeting.
PREDICTION: The Vikings’ stout defense should be able to force Pittsburgh to be one-dimensional, and Bradford figures to hit some downfield plays vs. the Steelers’ revamped secondary.